Asking the Right Questions (Not ‘what?,’ but ‘how?’)

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

English: Sunrise in the fog, near Horicon, Wis...

This is what a winter sunrise looks like where I live. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s early morning. Early enough that if I wander to an easterly-facing window I’ll see hints of dawn in about twenty minutes. I’m staying a night in my parents’ guest room, and I can see a misty moon through the cracks in the metal window blinds. Matt Kearney is rapping in my ears about ‘Girl America.’ I can’t sleep, so it must be time to write.

For the last few days I’ve been thinking about what it means to be skeptical. I have a tendency to define myself by the ideas I accept or reject. Democrat, Republican, liberal, conservative, Christian, atheist; all of these these labels discuss what the subscribers do or don’t think (with varying degrees of effectiveness). I’ve personally expended great amounts of energy hunting down labels that will tell people, in a word, exactly what I do or do not believe about god, politics, or the universe. (The result was ultimately a mess of nested labels.)

But defining myself by what I think is like determining the quality of computer hardware by the software installed. In reality, it’s how I think, not what I think, that’s critical to my ability to benefit the world. It’s the difference between accepting quark theory because current scientific research supports its claims, and accepting it for love of Hank Green’s (awesome but irrelevant) particle physics song. The person who accepts ideas based on diligent research will nearly always be more useful to society than the person whose beliefs are determined by fad or fashion, even if the researcher is occasionally wrong.

So then, the question because not “What do I believe?” but “How do I think?” For me, the answer to the first question has been changing and morphing for several years now. But the second question, although not new to me, is only recently the subject of intentional inquiry.

I may be calling it too soon, but I think the big question of how I think (into which more specific questions will certainly be nested) will be one of the most important questions on my ideological journey.

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